In the West, retro gaming has hit an explosion in popularity to what it once was. Kids of the 80s and 90s are now adults with disposable income that are willing to buy back these pieces of their childhood. It’s a market that is now big enough to even warrant GameStop wanting in on it. A weird way to meet the demand from your average consumer is to release retro multi-consoles, machines that emulate the systems of old such as the SNES, Genesis, and just about everything before them. Japan’s market for used games is much different from how it is overseas. There’s still plenty of stores that buy, sell, and repair old games and consoles from decades ago, so it’s odd that a multi-console machine was released over there. The Retro Freak console is made by Cyber Gadget, a company that mostly manufactures 3rd party accessories for popular consoles and handhelds. The Retro Freak might not be as easily accessible as a Retro-Bit or Hyperkin machine, but what it brings to the table sets it a bit above its competitors.
For a price of $200 you can pick up the basic version of the Retro Freak off of any major online retailer. The standard package comes with 1 console and power source, 1 controller, and an HDMI cable. There’s also a slightly more expensive $230 version that comes bundled with everything above as well as a multi-controller adapter. The Retro Freak console is rather compact, and actually smaller than most of the consoles it’s emulating. The console and all its peripherals are a light gray color, similar to NES and Game Boy. It has 3 USB ports up front for controllers and controller adapters, and a multitude of slots for the various types of games it can run. This tiny plastic box can play Super Nintendo, Genesis, all three generations of Game Boy handhelds, TurboGrafx, and Famicom games. It can technically run NES, Game Gear, and Master System games as well, but you need some help from a 3rd party game adapter. It’s a good spread of consoles about on par with the Retron 5 with added support for the TurboGrafx.
The Retro Freak controller is actually pretty good. It mirrors the SNES controller layout, but adds in extra options and home buttons so that it functions with the console. It’s comfortable to say the least. The D-pad doesn’t feel stiff, all the buttons are responsive, and it also works on a PC since it doubles as a USB controller. For those that need an “as close to authentic experience” as they can get, there’s a multi-adapter that has ports for controllers of every console it emulates and will even recognize a Sixaxis, Dual Shock, and Xbox One controller. Every controller can be remapped in the console’s main menu, ensuring there’s no weird unchangeable button layouts.
The best part of the Retro Freak is not its wide library of games or controller, but rather the software it runs everything on. The big console part of the Retro Freak is just a hub for reading cartridges, and you can detach the actual console part off of the back. It’s tiny, about the size as most cell phones, and has two USB ports for controllers. There’s a microSD slot on the back of the console, and this is where the magic happens. The Retro Freak is able to install ROM files onto the card from the games that you plot into its cartridge hub, and it lets you play them later without needing the original. You can also load files on the SD card, which is a great way to apply translation patches to Japanese-only games or boot up Rom-hacks. The microSD card is also how you update the Retro Freak, and Cyber Gadget has been pretty good about adding more support for it. The aforementioned support for Game Gear and Master System titles came from a patch, and Cyber Gadget is currently working on making an official physical adapter for them.
The Retro Freak outputs games into HD resolution much like the Retron, and offers a slew of tweaking options. You can stretch images and the aspect ratio, mess with the refresh rate for PAL-region games, and even add scanlines if that’s your thing. There’s plenty of other options as well, such as changing the display language of the console (Japanese, English, and traditional Chinese), audio options, and even letting the console perform auto-saves with games.
Overall, the Retro Freak has to be one of my favorite retro-emulation consoles, and also the one that seems to have the most lasting potential. It’s easily one of the most portable consoles out there thanks to its microSD compatibility. Its $200 price tag might seem a bit steep, but even its main competitors are about the same price but offer less in terms of games and support. Top it all off with a great out-of-box USB controller and wide-range of 3rd party support, and the Retro Freak is one of the best products out there old-school gaming fans.